Friday, March 6, 2009

"OK, you got chops, now get out of the way of the content... "

Brooklyn Revealed is an innovative history website that uses Flash to allow visitors to interactively explore a collection of historic photos on an attractive map interface. Which is why some people hate it.

The Metafilter discussion is really valuable in pointing out some of the big problems with Flash presentations, which boil down to the ways that Flash defines the user experience and limits true interactivity with a site. On Flash sites it can be difficult to download or make direct links to individual items. On the other hand you can get an exciting site with dancing colors and so on, so long as you do not try to actually do anything with those dancing images. As one Metafilter commenter wrote: "All of the natural web browser functions -- text searching, bookmarking, stepped navigation -- are essentially turned off in a Flash environment and must be either re-engaged or accounted for in other ways." To be fair Brooklyn Revealed does restore some functions. The Flash popups of the images include a link to static URL for each picture, and you can browse sequentially with the arrow keys, But it is still a crippled presentation compared to many other sites on the web.

See also my post, Flash Over Content: The National Archives Experience.


Cameron Blevins said...

I really agree - Flash has a place, but I think it's a limited one, especially for sites that are more educational in nature (and should theoretically be more interactive). I can appreciate the aesthetics and information visualization of a well-done piece of Flash, but ultimately, what keeps me coming back to that site?

Bill Youngs said...

The Bard put it well: "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale." -- Surely we can have it both ways, the "chops" and the "content." In fact, the wondrous challenge of new media and history is to wed flash and the content, the performative and the interactive elements. My favorite combining of the two is "Echos of the Past" a presentation of The Virtual Museum of Quebec -- The main menu on the home page leads out to lots of informative, interactive elements. But begin by clicking "Flash Version" at the bottom of the page and you are taken to a wonderfully sequence of flash "performances" evoking the landscape and images on the site. Finding just the right combination of evocation and user-controlled-content-oriented-interaction -- there is the sublime challenge of applying new technologies to history!